The ingredient: asparagus
The noble asparagus has long been a delicacy, counting among its fans even Louis XIV of France, which led to its nickname: Food of Kings. Today, it still carries some of that cachet, partly because of its cost. Why the higher price tag? Asparagus is harvested by hand, and it’s a perennial, so the fields where it grows can’t be used for other crops and must lie dormant for much of the year. Nearly 80 percent of the U.S. stock is grown in California, where the peak season is March and April.
Whether served as a sophisticated appetizer or tossed into a main dish, asparagus is a vegetable that always delights. Looking for new ways to savor its fresh flavor? Try these three asparagus recipes: Fettuccine with Asparagus & Smoked Salmon, Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Orange Cream and Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms & Shallots.
Did you know?
- When choosing asparagus, look for bright color, tightly closed buds at the tip and firm stalks. The thickness of the stalk is a matter of preference and not indicative of quality—a thicker stalk just means it came from a more mature plant. These heartier stalks tend to handle broiling and sautéing better than their pencil-thin counterparts (best to steam those). To trim the woody ends, just hold the lower half of the stalk in both hands and gently bend until the tough end snaps off.
- Asparagus is a significant source of nutrients, most notably the B vitamin folate, which is vital in the prevention of certain birth defects and may help protect against cancer. Just one cup provides 67 percent of the recommended daily intake! Asparagus also contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, thiamin and rutin—a phytochemical that helps to strengthen blood vessel walls. All these perks come with a very small number of calories (as long as you take it easy on the hollandaise!).
- In hot weather (about 90°F), asparagus can grow 7 inches in one day—so fast that it’s said you can actually watch it shoot up!
- White asparagus is still the preferred variety through much of Europe. Soil is piled on the plants while they’re growing to protect them from sunlight.